In which we find the original 12 step program – from 900 years ago

by Craig on January 5, 2011

God gives grace to the humble.  Pride is always a reason for the withdrawal of grace.  Humility therefore is a necessary condition of grace.

It was 900 years ago,

in France,

and a little monastery was falling away,

and monk was called in to save it.

This Monk was Bernard of Clairvaux and he reformed the abbey with the his 12 steps of humility.

I found out about this because I was rummaging through the Seminary library for books on pride. I knew I had “pride” issues and I wanted big, heavy, fat books – lots of  them.

Amid the Big books that were written on ethics and pride was this tiny paperback. It was smushed like a tomato on a too busy shish kabob. I gave it a glance. But it wasn’t about pride, it was about humilty, and the 12 steps thereof.

“Well I certainly don’t want that!” I thought. “I need big chunky books on pride, not tiny paperbacks on humility!”

I told you I had pride issues.

And did I mention spiritual blindness,

and being just plain stupid?

I really don’t know how, but the book ended up in my handful of “substantial” hardcovers. It had to have legs because I know I put it back on the shelf.

That bold printed few sentences at the top of the post. I’d like to say they’re mine, but they’re not. They belong to Bernard of Clairvaux – and they circle me back around to the verse in the Book of James that I’m camped out on. James 1:21:

Therefore, put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.

I’ve already learned about the “therefore” and “filth” and “the evil excess” and the “putting away” (here and here).

So now comes one little word that is bigger than it looks.


I am supposed to put away the bad stuff and “humbly welcome the word”. To do so humbly, I need to be humble, to be about the business of humility, and that brings me back to Bernard – and his 12 steps.

And in a very interesting twist, Bernard doesn’t write about the steps toward humility at all – he talks of the steps to pride.

I know!

That’s what I thought.

I also thought I was brilliant for finding the one book in the library that was about the subject I wanted – even though it was titled exactly the opposite.

Did I mention pride issues?

Anyway, instead of steps to humility we now have the steps of pride – and one more twist. Each step can be halted to prevent a falling to the next. Yet each unchecked step leads to a further falling, and then to the bottom.

Bernard says that the bottom is a pride which prevents grace.

Step One:

Curiosity – it seems benign doesn’t it?

Bernard writes, “That curiosity which is manifested by that looking around [for something better]…Satan, Eve”

I added the “for something better”. Sorry Bernard.

It’s not curiosity like scientific discovery, or unveiling mysteries of God – not good curiosity like that – it’s another kind. It is the inordinate asking of why. Or better yet, the negative question, why not?

The “why” to God, when I get the answer I want, pretty much ends it there.  But pride rears its head, when the answer is not what my desire wanted to hear.  Then the neutral aspect of curiosity turns pridefully toward the negative.

“Why can’t I?”

“Why won’t you?”

And with that comes a subtle change in attitude.

And with that comes a hardness.

And with that begins the slide…

God Bless

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Debbie January 5, 2011 at 1:59 am

I love what you find and share with us! Love how God is helping you do this. Love how deep and into our hearts it goes. Thank you!


Craig January 5, 2011 at 2:10 am

Deb, you are like an angel on top of a Christmas tree. Thank you. thank you.


Melissa January 6, 2011 at 6:13 am

Ironic how you were writing this yesterday, and I was walking it out. I didn’t see it as pride, but I felt my hardening through the day, and by last night, I felt myself being into a downward spiral. And how ironic that your post today is a picture of where I sense I am headed…. And further, how ironic that the Lord was speaking to me two days ago –warning me–about the need to stay poor in spirit…I am thanking the Lord for you, Craig. I love these posts..and these treasured saints from long ago…and their treasures you are finding that speak so wonderfully today.


Craig January 6, 2011 at 10:46 am

Melissa, thank you again for being here. Your heart that pursues Our Lord is inspiring. I am going to love this little side trip with Bernard of Clairveaux – such wisdom to unravel. Thank you for being here to unravel it with me.


Melissa January 6, 2011 at 6:18 am

I guess I’m not awake yet. In the post above:
I felt my “heart” hardening… and…I felt myself being “pulled” into a downward spiral…an yes, the Lord is definitely teaching me about humility. :)


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